You Have Too Many Flies: 5 ways to cope

Don't resist the urge to purge

Row of chironomids in the "2nd team" box
Most fly fishermen I know carry a lot of flies when they fish and, as I wrote about a while back, you really only need one fly anyway. But even with that said, it's always good to stop and reevaluate our fly position.

When I tied my first fly some 25 odd years ago, I had no idea how absolutely hideous it really was. Adding insult to injury and taking a page from Uncle Ken, it was tied with the nastiest selection of materials (ones that came in my handy kit) and although a dry fly, it sunk like a rock. It caught zero fish.

As a result, in the intervening years, as I've spent more time behind the vise, I have collected more flies across more boxes. Not surprisingly, the flies, if graphed as a function of ugliness, would show an inverse relationship to the time dedicated to the craft. This usually results in a pile of flies (or in my case, sometimes boxes of flies) that, given my standard today, would not make the cut to the varsity team. Yet, for years I kept thinking "oh, I'll get in the middle of a killer baetis hatch and those nasty-looking comparaduns will come in handy". No, never happened like that.

So over the years, I've traditionally done major restructuring of my boxes from time to time, pushing the "2nd team" flies into their own boxes that stayed in the closet or my gear bags and reevaluating my varsity team flies. Some of those 2nd team flies actually went into the trash. Some I gifted to some friends who were just beginning to fish. It's therapeutic and it made room to tie other flies without infinitely adding to the collection.
brown trout hopper fishing
The Tomsu Hopper is on the varsity team

With that said, I have since gone through this and other fly box purges and re-org's, here are a few points I found to be helpful:

1.  Let's face it, most of us can benefit from slimming down and dialing in the fly selection. Whether it's opening up space in our packs or vests or just being more mindful of what we're carrying with us. Don't be afraid to lessen the load if you like. But hey, if you're cool with carrying 10 boxes of mayflies in every shape, phase and color, great. Otherwise, read on...

2.  If you tie flies, going through an annual purge or re-org can help you identify areas you need to improve in your tying. I'm often blown away at how crappy I tied a certain batch of flies from a year or two ago let alone 10 years ago. I know it's borderline OCD, but I'll often replace a given section in a box with new flies, of the same basic pattern, I feel looked better to me, had a new twist added to them or some more durable material/method. This more active quality evaluation will push you to tie better looking and better tied flies overall. I think it also helps creativity as you will be thinking more often about improvements in design and construction of the flies as well.

3. One thing I do as I go through the fly boxes is to do a quick inventory on what flies actually did the best on the water. I'll usually opt for tying more of a good performing pattern using them to replace flies in the box that haven't gotten results. Whether they work or not, it may actually be more an issue of whether you'll even have an opportunity to fish them. If you're not going to use them, don't carry them. You'll end up with fly boxes that have a higher concentration of varsity team patterns. On the flip side, though, always make room for the field tester flies. If you remain committed to the same varsity team to the exclusion of everything else, you might be missing on some good opportunities.

4.  Another big move I've made in organizing my boxes is to tie and stock more "cross-functional" flies. If you have a pattern that can act like a Mayfly and a Caddis at the same time, you just saved a bit of space in your box. Patterns, like the Chimera, that can double as different bugs to the feeding fish are a good example. The Mercer's missing link is another great example of a cross-matching pattern.

5. As you narrow down and finely hone your fly boxes, I'm strongly convinced you'll end up being a more successful fisherman. In the end, you'll be fishing with your "confidence" flies, you'll be fishing flies you know that work and your tying skills should come along with all that. As Michael Scott would say "it's a win,".